Scene 5: Decisions

posted July 6, 2010

Mai paused before the Fire Lord's main study for a long moment before entering. Two hand-picked Royal guards stood ready in the corridor, their posture impeccable; she ignored them, took a deep breath, and pushed the doors open.

The Kyoshi warrior posted inside nodded; Mai raised her hand in acknowledgement and stepped into the room. Zuko sat at his writing table, parchment strewn over its surface. A frown creased his forehead as he looked up.

Mai steeled herself and moved forward, noted appreciatively how the Kyoshi warrior retreated just far enough for privacy, but close enough to be ready. The action pleased her, gave her the courage to continue. She lay a bundle of scrolls on the writing table. "Here are my proposals."

Zuko stared at her. "You're serious."

Mai sighed. "Yes, Zuko, I'm serious. I meant what I said: you need a chief of security more than you need a girlfriend."

"I… I don't know what I'm going to do, without you."

His voice broke on the last words and Mai almost forgot her plans, forgot her resolve and his needs; she almost stepped around the table to lean into him and feel his warmth, but instead she inhaled, exhaled, and pushed the longing down. "Cheer up, Zuko. I'm not leaving you. You just need protection, now – not another distraction."

His forehead creased in anger this time. "You're not a distraction – and I can take care of myself. I –"

"You can take care of yourself, Zuko – but can you take care of the Fire Lord?"

"I –"

"You're not an exile any more, Zuko, or even a prince. You're the Fire Lord. We know you can take care of yourself – but we need you. If anything happened to you…" Tears stung her eyes, then, and Mai tried to blink them away. "We can't lose you. I can't lose you."

Zuko stood, pushed back his chair so hard it screeched against, stepped forward as if to take her into his arms, but Mai stepped back. She wiped her eyes and crossed her arms and tried to smile. Emotion played across Zuko's face, the hurt and anger and love and confusion, and the smile somehow became real. "Oh, Zuko… I do love you… and that's why I want to keep you safe."

The frown creased his face again, but perhaps – perhaps – it betrayed less hurt. "You certainly have a way of showing it."

Mai laughed, then, and wiped away the last tears. "Well, I suppose we all must make our own decisions." She inhaled, exhaled, and felt peace settle over her. "I'll want to discuss these plans with you soon – especially my proposals for your security at the upcoming wedding on Kyoshi Island."

Zuko frowned. "I thought it wasn't until next year."

"That's the problem with you, Zuko." She smiled. "You never think ahead." She made herself turn away then, and walk to the doors. The Kyoshi warrior stepped up to push them open for her and Mai nodded her acknowledgement. In the corridor, the Royal guards remained still and stoic and Mai nodded again, then cracked her knuckles.

There were going to be some changes around the palace, now – and she was going to make them.


Author's note: Oh, dear readers, I must apologize; I didn't realize that so many Maiko fans would stumble upon this fic, not realizing that I am, at heart, a Zutara writer (despite how I strive to resist labels).

I adore Mai, adore how she grows through the series from the spoiled governor's daughter to the kind of woman who gets herself imprisoned for her ideals and still has the heart to forgive. This story is my attempt to do her character justice and allow her to make her own choices, which I hope I've accomplished.

Thanks for reading!